LIVINGSTON — North Alabama wrapped up a surprising regular season in style Saturday afternoon.
The Lions opened a big lead early and never let up en route to a 61-46 victory over West Alabama.
UNA (19-9, 12-6 GSC), which was picked to finish fifth in the Gulf South Conference will be the No. 2 seed for this week’s GSC Tournament. The Lions will play Christian Brothers in the first round in Birmingham on Thursday at 2:30 p.m.
“This means a lot to us because nobody expected us to be where we are,” said sophomore forward Corinne White. “It feels really good to prove people wrong.”
UNA will carry a three-game winning streak into the conference tournament. Delta State defeated Valdosta State on Saturday to secure the No. 1 seed for the tournament.
“I’m just so excited and proud for this group,” coach Terry Fowler said. “There were really no expectations for them at the start of the season, so to win 19 games and get second in the league is great.”
Nichelle Fillmore scored five quick points to get UNA rolling. Lauren Faris and Abby Andrews later hit back-to-back treys and Andrews added a layup to put the Lions up 21-11. Fillmore, however, sat most of the half with two fouls and the Lions settled for a 32-27 halftime lead.
UNA was able to get the ball inside early in the second half to extend its lead to 43-32 after a putback and a free throw by Mekena Randle.
West Alabama (12-14, 7-11) was able to trim the lead to 46-39 with 6:11 to play. White then answered with a shot from the top of the key to shift the momentum back to the Lions.
White, who played 28 minutes with Fillmore in foul trouble all the way, finished with eight points and nine rebounds to spark UNA.
“Coach always tells us we have to be ready when our number is called,” White said. “I had to come in and do what I could do. I just tried to play hard and go after the ball.”
After a West Alabama free throw, the Lions went on a 6-0 run and led 54-40 after two free throws by Jennifer Towne. The Lions put the Tigers away when Faris buried a trey from the top of the key to make it 58-42 with 2:03 remaining.
UNA held the Tigers to 21.7 percent shooting from the field and finished with a 53-41advantage on the boards.
“We’ve been playing really good defense,” Fowler said. “The girls now have a better understanding of our philosophy. We played with great alertness today.”
Faris led UNA with 12 points and added
six rebounds and five assists. Sarah Bailey added 10 points and nine rebounds, while
playing solid defense on West Alabama’s Brittany Weathers. The GSC’s leading scorer, Weathers scored just 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting.
“To do what Sarah did defensively and then to still stay aggressive offensively says a lot about her maturity,” Fowler said. “This entire team from Day 1 has worked so hard and continued to improve.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.